Apuleius' Golden Ass, the only surviving novel of the Roman Empire, is a tale of a Greek nobleman devoting his life to the goddess Isis following his transformation to an ass and back. Although a work of fiction, the novel reveals a great deal about religion in Apuleius' society. This information, however, must be viewed with a critical eye. He incorporates stories from Greco-Roman mythology not to affirm their validity, but to reveal their commonness to society. Apuleius insults other religions that are not of the Pantheon with severe viciousness, while the general public may have been more open to them. In the end, he praises Isis and Osiris as the supreme gods while giving first hand account of their righteousness. Overall, Apuleius' view of religion cannot be trusted.
From the very start we see Apuleius using references to Roman myths as similes to everyday occurrences. When Fotis, the slave, enters his bedroom to make love to him, he remarks that "she stood, transformed into a living statue: the Love-goddess rising from the sea. The flushed hand with which she pretended to screen her mount of Venus showed that she was well aware of the resemblance; certainly it was not held there from modesty." He describes a slave girl trying to seduce him as Venus rising out of the sea. Some of this description may be a hyperbole for Lucius' love of Fotis. However, Apuleius goes beyond this by linking Fotis directly to Venus. Thus, the most beautiful goddess in the Pantheon is easily seen in a slave girl. Similarly, Thelyphron, when telling the story how members of a household attacked him, describes himself as feeling "like Adonis mauled by the wild boar, or Orpheus torn in pieces by the Thracian women." This is especially ironic since it is later revealed that Thelyphron's nose and ears were replaced by wax the night before. As the wild boar mutilated the handsome Adonis, the witches and the people of Hypta had disfigured Thelyphron. Other incidents that are similar to stories in myth occur throughout the novel. Like these two incidents, the others also follow the pattern of showing that things occurring in everyday Greek life (having sexual relations with a slave and getting attacked by an angry mob) were nearly synonymous with divine tales.
Following Lucious' transformation to an ass, he takes on a more frontal assault towards the minor religions present in the Roman Empire at the time. He outright calls the eunuch priests that worship the Syrian Goddess frauds. The priests stay
"Where the public were very kind to them: in particular they made a good deal of money by professing to tell fortunes. Between them, these pious frauds composed an all-purpose oracle for the Goddess to deliver by their mouths, and used it to cheat a great many people who came to consult her on all sorts of questions." (Graves, pg. 198-199)
By not revealing the specifics of the religion of the eunuchs, Apuleius leaves open the...